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The Law of Unintended Consequences
By Pounding on Hong Kong, Xi Is Losing Taiwan

Chinese President Xi Jinping is not backing down in the face of persistent demands by Hong Kong’s citizens for increased democracy. Today, the protests took a more serious turn:

In a significant escalation of their efforts to suppress protests calling for democracy, the authorities in Hong Kong unleashed tear gas and mobilized riot police with long-barreled guns Sunday to disperse crowds that have besieged the city government for three days. But thousands of residents wielding only umbrellas and face masks defied police orders to clear the area.

Hours after the police sought to break up the protest, large crowds of demonstrators remained nearby, sometimes confronting lines of officers and chanting for them to lay down their truncheons and shields. Police officers were also injured in skirmishes with protesters. Streets of a city known as a safe enclave for commerce became a nighttime battleground.

It’s hard to imagine the Chinese leadership blinking. Escalating to more serious violence may not be what the Politburo wants, but they also know they cannot possibly show weakness here as it could embolden dissidents in other parts of the country to try their luck.

But their stance on Hong Kong has already had a significant knock-on effect in another area of concern for China: Taiwan. Though Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, was seen as gingerly steering his country towards gradual and eventual unification with the mainland, recent events in Hong Kong have created a political consensus that reunification is just not going to work. The Wall Street Journal:

In remarks delivered at a meeting with pro-unification delegates from Taiwan on Friday, Mr. Xi said China took “a firm and unwavering stance” on reunification with Taiwan. He went on to say that the best way to resolve lingering animosity across the Taiwan Strait was to employ the “one country, two systems” framework that governs Beijing’s relationships with Hong Kong and Macau.[…]

“Following the Hong Kong experience, if [Mr. Xi] still thinks ‘one country, two systems’ can still cheat the people, then [he is] clearly way too naive,” said Huang Kuo-chang, a principle leader in Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement, a political action that cautions Taiwan’s dealings with Chinese Communist Party.

Wu Jieh-min, a researcher at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, also slammed Mr. Xi’s suggestion, saying heavy handedness from Beijing would only fuel greater public support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and anti-China sentiment on Taiwan. “Hong Kong’s current struggle for genuine election shows China has no intention of ever carrying out the ‘one country, two systems’ model. Beijing has zero credibility in this regard,” he said.

At minimum, the Chinese need to come up with a brand overhaul for their policy. “One country two systems” is looking a little shopworn.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The Chinese never meant to honor their word to give Hong Kong democracy. It was a sop to the UK, to grease the way for China’s take over of Hong Kong.

    • Andrew Allison

      While it’s true that the Chinese never intended to give Hong Kong democracy, the simple fact is that HK and the New Territories were leased from China by the UK, and the lease expired. “One country two systems” was a sop to the locals, not the UK.

      • carlisimo

        Many Hong Kongers say it was primarily a sop to Taiwan, to try to convince them to “come back to the fold.”

        • MMinCC

          Taiwan was never “in the fold” At no time in it’s history was it ever part of Communist China.

          • carlisimo

            Agreed, hence the quotation marks. But that’s how the Chinese see it, and I was talking about what their intent was.

          • MMinCC


        • Andrew Allison

          I think that if that had been the case the Chinese would have been much less heavy-handed in Hong Kong. Incidentally, I was reminded by the UK PM’s statement today that the agreement between the UK and the Chinese government guaranteed “two systems” until 2047.

  • Jenna

    China can never lose what it never had (Taiwan). And this isn’t a sudden change – the people of Taiwan didn’t want to be annexed before, and they don’t want it now. Before the protests there was still a solid societal consensus that there should not be any unification, and the people have leaned pro-independence over unification (if “status quo” is not an option) for some time now, if not always.

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